No one likes hearing negative feedback. Unfortunately not every customer is going to give you a glowing review, deserved or not. While your first instinct may be to react with equal negativity, if you do you'll miss an opportunity to turn the conversation around and end on a positive note. Here are a few tips and tricks to try out as well as potholes to avoid...
A learning opportunity
The customer isn't always right but they might have spotted a weakness you didn't know you had. Take time to really review what it is they're complaining about and talk to those in your team who interacted with them. When did the relationship start to sour? Was there a particular incident that could have been avoided? Oftentimes it comes down to communication. You may think you were doing everything right but the customer was left in the dark about when and how things would happen, leaving them feeling forgotten about.
Brief the team (before they need it)
Make sure everyone in your business is prepared to hear and respond to customer complaints. What you don't want is someone on your team getting frustrated and making the situation worse. It's also important to find a balance between empowering your employees to respond to customer complaints and knowing when they need to be escalated to management. It's a good idea to have guidelines in place around this and for your team to make you aware of all issues as they arise — better to be over-prepared than under!
Run an exercise with your team where you pretend to be an unhappy customer and what they do. Encourage them to reassure the customer where possible, always stay calm and collected, and to know when to call for reinforcements.
Make the customer feel heard
The best way to turn this experience around for the customer is to really make them feel heard and valued. You can do this by going back to them with follow-up questions about where you could improve and what they would like to see. Even if they don't answer the questions, it will usually diffuse the tension.
Take a few deep breaths
The worst time to respond to negative feedback is straight after you get it. Give yourself time to calm down, draft a response and ask someone else to review it before you respond to make sure you don't say something you'll end up regretting. Word spreads! While you may not care about that particular customer and their perception of you now the job is done, if you send them a rude response they are guaranteed to tell their friends about it and warn them off you.
Remember, there's no rush. What you say is more important than when you say it.